WO2007117578A2 - Vending machine systems and methods of use - Google Patents

Vending machine systems and methods of use Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2007117578A2
WO2007117578A2 PCT/US2007/008544 US2007008544W WO2007117578A2 WO 2007117578 A2 WO2007117578 A2 WO 2007117578A2 US 2007008544 W US2007008544 W US 2007008544W WO 2007117578 A2 WO2007117578 A2 WO 2007117578A2
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
method
vending machine
product
menu
select
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Application number
PCT/US2007/008544
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French (fr)
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WO2007117578A3 (en
Inventor
Mark Miller
Mark Bentley
Original Assignee
Fortune Resources
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
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Publication date
Priority to US40078406A priority Critical
Priority to US11/400,784 priority
Application filed by Fortune Resources filed Critical Fortune Resources
Publication of WO2007117578A2 publication Critical patent/WO2007117578A2/en
Publication of WO2007117578A3 publication Critical patent/WO2007117578A3/en

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F9/00Details other than those peculiar to special kinds or types of apparatus
    • G07F9/02Devices for alarm or indication, e.g. when empty; Advertising arrangements in coin-freed apparatus
    • G07F9/026Devices for alarm or indication, e.g. when empty; Advertising arrangements in coin-freed apparatus for alarm, monitoring and auditing in vending machines or means for indication, e.g. when empty
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q20/00Payment architectures, schemes or protocols
    • G06Q20/08Payment architectures
    • G06Q20/18Payment architectures involving self- service terminals [SSTs], vending machines, kiosks or multimedia terminals

Abstract

Vending machine systems and methods of use are disclosed that provide advanced features. In one embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for requesting products for placement in a select vending machine using an automated online request system. In another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for generating a preplanned menu for one or more vending machines using an automated menu generator system. In still another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for using a custom menu pricing system for one or more vending machines. In another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for tracking an individual user's usage of one or more vending machines. In another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for using a remote verbal vending machine communication system.

Description

VENDING MACHINE SYSTEMS AND METHODS OF USE

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The invention relates generally to vending machines capable of dispensing products such as snacks, beverages and coffee, beauty products and medical supplies and more specifically to advanced features and methods of use with vending machines, such as automation of specific customer product requests, custom menu generation, tracking individual customer sales, subsidized vending, remote assistance, and more.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

[0002] Vending machines have been used very widely for dispensing products such as snacks, beverages and coffee. Vending machines are usually capable of informing a customer of the products available purchase, either with a clear window to view the products or a display or pictures of the products. In use, the customer inserts money or a credit card into the vending machine, makes a selection of the product desired and the product is dispensed.

[0003] Vending machines need to be filled with products periodically during a "service cycle" by service personnel. One of the drawbacks with this type of support is that once a vending machine is placed at a location, the vending operator must rely on his service personnel to determine the type of products to be placed in the machine and reliably respond to requests by customers for specific products that the customers would like offered in their vending machine. Time and time again service personnel fail to remember or follow through on the customer's direct request and subsequently the customer receives no satisfaction on that request. The vending operator risks the loss of product sales and accounts. [0004] Another drawback is that vending operators use a manual process for sorting through each vending machines product sales/usage data after each service cycle to determine which products sold and/or which products to place in the menu for the next service cycle. Typically, the service personal will review this data and then generate a menu manually. This process adds to the service cost and relies on the knowledge and consistency of the service personal, which may vary greatly.

[0005] Typical vending machines have a variety of bins that are stocked with a variety of products that are offered at various prices. The product pricing is typically programmed manually by an individual, or automatically by a software device, into a vending machines memory chip/program. The problem starts when the vending operator must manually set each corresponding bins visual pricing label in front of each bin to correspond with the programmed price. This is a time consuming method and makes it tough for vending operators to easily change their menu prices. Additionally, there is a higher margin of error due to the manual process. Postal stamp vending machines offer one type of solution by using a digital display in front of each bin of stamps offered. If the vending operator uses this type of machine with a digital display, he would only need to manually program the price and the individual visual bin display would automatically reflect the programmed price. This process reduces the chance of error but increases the cost of the machine. Installing digital displays in front of each bin is costly and the cost is significantly increased as more LED's or digits are needed.

[0006] Some companies may like to subsidize their vending machine products for their employees by offering a lower price or providing free vending products, such as snacks and beverages, to their employees as a company benefit. Currently, vending operators can adjust the vendor machines bin pricing (reduced price or set to free vend) and invoice the company for the difference. The problem is lack of controls and flexibility. Anyone approaching a subsidized vending machine is treated the same as the employee and anyone abusing this benefit cannot be controlled since the machine cannot identify the individual employee or customer. All walk through traffic receives the same benefit as the company's employees. [0007] Vending machines may also have mechanical problems, such as a product does not vend correctly or a changer does not give the proper change back. Currently, the customer must write or call someone to request a refund. These type of problems often occur, which discourages customers and operators.

[0008] Unfortunately, the problems described above have not yet been adequately addressed. It would be advantageous if vending machine systems and methods of use could be developed that provide a more efficient way for a customer to request specific products to be offered in specific vending machines. It would be further be advantageous if vending machine systems and methods of use could be developed that offer the ability to process data and automatically generate a custom menu and custom pricing for each vending machine. It would also be advantageous if vending machine systems and methods of use could be developed that are capable of tracking individual customers and their purchasing habits and/or allows subsidized vending and/or distinguish between the customers. Finally, it would be advantageous if vending machine systems and methods of use could be developed that are capable of correcting problems with the vending machine as they occur in a timely and efficient manner.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0009] It is in view of the above problems that the present invention was developed. Generally, the present invention provides advanced features for use with vending machine systems and methods of use, such as automation of specific customer product requests, custom menu generation, tracking individual customer sales, subsidized vending, remote assistance, and more.

[0010] In one embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for requesting products for placement in a select vending machine using an automated online request system. The method includes accessing the automated online request system using an interactive website, retrieving information for the select vending machine in the automated online request system, displaying on a website display a menu of currently offered products on the select vending machine and all products available for the select vending machine, and selecting a requested product for placement in the select vending machine.

[0011] In another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for generating a preplanned menu for one or more vending machines using an automated menu generator system. The method includes obtaining product sales/usage data from the one or more vending machines, entering the obtained product sales/usage data into the automated menu generator system, reviewing the product sales/usage data to determine sales success of each individual product, apply a ranking to each individual product based on the product sales/usage data, and generating a preplanned menu of products to be placed in the one or more vending machines based in part on the ranking.

[0012] In another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for using a custom menu pricing system for one or more vending machines having a memory and individual product bins. The method includes assigning each product to be sold to an individual bin in a select vending machine, entering the price of each product into the custom menu pricing system creating a custom menu and a pricing card for the select vending machine, the custom menu including at least the individual product name, the corresponding price and the bin number, printing the custom pricing card from the custom menu, the custom pricing card including at least the individual product name, the corresponding price and the bin number, placing the custom pricing card on the select vending machine, and entering the price associated with each bin into the memory of the select vending machine.

[0013] In another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for tracking an individual user's usage of one or more vending machines. The method includes assigning each individual user a unique identification number which the user enters into the vending machine prior to a purchase and tracking each user's usage of the one or more vending machines using the unique identification number.

|0014] In another embodiment, a system and method is disclosed for using a remote verbal vending machine communication system. The method includes initiating communication using a vending machine communication device to contact remote service personnel and verbally communicating with remote service personnel through the vending machine communication device.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0015] In the following detailed description of the invention reference is made to the accompanying drawings which form a part hereof, and in which are shown, by way of illustration, specific embodiments in which the invention may be practiced. These embodiments are described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention. Other embodiments may be utilized, and structural, logical, and electrical changes may be made, without departing from the scope of the present invention.

[0016] Fig. 1 shows two example embodiments of a vending machine system for use with the present invention;

[0017] Fig. 2 shows one example of a website for entering a unique ID for finding a specific vending machine;

[0018] Fig. 3 is a display showing the current menu of products that are currently offered on a specific vending machine;

[0019] Fig. 4 is a display showing all of the available products offered in the vendor operator's warehouse by picture and/or by name;

[0020] Fig. 5 shows a customized menu based on specific product sales/usage data from a specific vending machine;

[0021] Fig. 6 is a display showing another customized menu based on specific product sales/usage data from a specific vending machine and a variety of alternate products that are available for vending and substituting in the menu;

[0022] Fig. 7 shows a custom pricing card generated from a custom menu pricing system;

[0023] Fig. 8 shows a custom pricing card installed on a vending machine; [0024] Fig. 9 shows one example of historical details of every transaction from a smart card customer; and

[0025] Fig. 10 shows two embodiments of smart cards for use in the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0026| Embodiments of the invention will now be described with reference to the accompanying figures, wherein like reference numerals refer to like elements throughout. Unless otherwise expressly stated herein, the terminology used in the description presented herein is not intended to be interpreted in any limited or restrictive manner, simply because it is being utilized in conjunction with a detailed description of certain specific embodiments of the invention. Furthermore, embodiments of the invention may include several novel features, no single one of which is solely responsible for its desirable attributes or which is essential to practicing the inventions herein described.

(0027] As used herein, the terms "comprises," "comprising," "includes," "including," "has," "having" or any other variation thereof, are intended to cover a non-exclusive inclusion. For example, a process, method, article, or apparatus that comprises a list of elements is not necessarily limited to only those elements but may include other elements not expressly listed or inherent to such process, method, article, or apparatus. Further, unless expressly stated to the contrary, "or" refers to an inclusive or and not to an exclusive or. For example, a condition A or B is satisfied by any one of the following: A is true (or present) and B is false (or not present), A is false (or not present) and B is true (or present), and both A and B are true (or present).

[0028] Also, use of the "a" or "an" are employed to describe elements and components of the invention. This is done merely for convenience and to give a general sense of the invention. This description should be read to include one or at least one and the singular also includes the plural unless it is obvious that it is meant otherwise.

[0029] Reference throughout this specification to "one embodiment", "an embodiment" or "preferred embodiment" means that a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described in connection with the embodiment is included in at least one embodiment of the present invention. Thus, the appearance of the phrases "in one embodiment", "in an embodiment" or "a preferred embodiment" in various places throughout this specification are not necessarily all referring to the same embodiment. Furthermore, the particular features, structures, or characteristics may be combined in any suitable manner in one or more embodiments.

[0030] Vending machines in general are known in the art and their general operation are not discussed in detail in the present invention. The following patents and patent applications disclose many details of vending machines applicable to the present invention and are all incorporated by reference in their entirety: US Patents 6,330,958; 6,367,653; 6,478,187; 6,644,495; 6,628,764; 6,845,880; 6,980,887 US Patent Application Publications 2004/0108329; 2005/0035197; and PCT Publication Number WO 02/25552.

[0031] The present invention discloses many embodiments of vending machine systems and methods of use. In one embodiment, it provides a more efficient way for a customer to request specific products to be offered in specific vending machines. In another embodiment, it offers the ability to process data and automatically generate a custom menu and custom pricing. In still another embodiment, it is capable of tracking individual customers and their purchasing habits and/or allows subsidized vending and/or distinguish between the customers. Finally, in another embodiment, it is capable of correcting problems with the vending machine as they occur in a timely and efficient manner.

[0032] Fig. 1 shows two embodiments of a vending machine system 100 for use with the present invention. The vending machine system IOOA on the left is a stacked system and the vending machine system IOOB on the right is a side-by-side system. While two systems are shown, the present invention will work with many vending machine system configurations. The vending machine system 100 includes a housing 105, mechanisms inside the housing for holding and dispensing products 110, product selector buttons 115 and a money controller 120. Internal to the vending machine system are components receiving money and dispensing products. Website Request System

[0033] One embodiment of the invention is direct to a system that provides a more efficient way for a customer to request specific products to be offered in select vending machines. The invention discloses an automated online request system that a customer may use to request specific products be placed in a select vending machine on the next service cycle. The automated online request system inserts the product request directly into the preplanned menu for packing for the select vending machine on the next service cycle and requires no follow through of any individual, such as service personnel. The automated online request system may also inform the customer of the products currently being offered in the vending machine, the previous service days, and historical product sales percentages of each product. This automated online request system gives the customer the satisfaction from having full control over their menu items in the vending machine and the vendor operator receives the satisfaction that his customers request are being fulfilled without depending on service personnel to remember.

[0034] In use, the customer logs onto the automated online request system and clicks the "Login Here" button. Fig. 2 shows one example of an interactive website for finding a specific vending machine. The vending machine may be found by entering a unique vendor ID. The customer inserts the unique vendor ID number 130 for the select vending machine 130 and clicks the find button 135. The vending operator determines a unique vendor identification (ID) for each of the vending machine. This vendor ID information may be conveyed to the customer by the vending operator, or the vendor ID information is on a sticker or label having the unique vendor ID placed on the vending machine. The sticker may also include a website address for the customer to access. T

[0035] The automated online request system finds the select vending machine 138, shown in Fig. 3. The automated online request system displays the current menu of products that is being currently offered at that time on the select vending machine and may also show and all products available for the select vending machine, discussed below. The display may show a picture 140 of each product being offered with the correct product bin assignment. The display may also show a calendar 145 indicating when the vending machine was serviced and the next service cycle, such as a three month calendar with each previous service day highlighted.

[0036] The automated online request system display is interactive with the customer. To make a specific request for a product, the customer clicks on "Request Different Items" button 150, shown on the left side in Fig. 3. This will take the customer to another display, shown in Fig. 4, showing all of the available products 155, by picture and/or by name, offered in the vendor operator's warehouse for use in the select vending machine. This display may also show other information, such as product usage percentage 160 at the select vending machine using green bars that indicate how well each product is selling (by percentage) in this location. The customer selects the specific products for placement in the select vending machine using the system by clicking on the item "ADD" or "REMOVE" button 165 next to the product.

[0037] After the customer makes their request for a specific product, the vending operator's computer server receives this request and automatically places the requested item into a preplanned menu for the next service cycle on the select vending machine. When the products are loaded for delivery on the next service cycle for the select vending machine, the customer selected product is also loaded using the preplanned menu. Because the service personnel and warehouse packers only load products using the preplanned menu, there are no extra duties for them to perform for the selected product for the select vending machine.

[0038] In some cases where customer usage is high and overlapping/conflicting request from the customers may be found, a different method may be used. The system may include a registration process and request a short application and e-mail verification be filled out from each customer using the online request service. This way if there are overlapping request each customer will be automatically e-mailed stating who or why their request can not be met at this time. This automated process may increase customer satisfaction and gross sales of products. Customers may be given the ability to lock and unlock any menu. Automated Menu Generator System

[0039] In another embodiment, the present invention discloses an automated menu generator system that includes software that reviews specific product sales/usage data from each vending machine and then systematically recommends a customized menu for each vending machine. Many vending machines are capable of tracking specific product sales and machine usage and downloading the information into a computer system.

[0040] Fig. 5 shows a customized menu 175 generated from an automated menu generator system. In use, specific product sales/usage data is downloaded or sent from one or more vending machines and entered into the automated menu generator system. The automated menu generator system includes software that reviews specific product sales/usage data and determines sales success of each individual product by applying a ranking to each individual product based on the product sales/usage data. The automated menu generator system then generates a preplanned or customized menu of products to be placed in the one or more vending machines 170 based in part on the ranking. Part of this process may require tracking how many vending machines and bins that each product has been offered in and how many people each product has been offered to. This process gives a clear idea of which products were selling better then others. The automated menu generator system disclosed is designed to increase consistency of the desired products (based on sales data), increase the profits per vending machine and reduce service cost.

[0041] Many factors may be considered in the automated menu generator system, such as time of day sales, gross product margin of each product, sales history of each individual vending machines, date sensitive products, sales history over the entire fleet of vending machines, special request, coupons, new products offered, warehouse inventory levels, etc. In one example of the automated menu generator system, if a specific product is offered in one bin and that bin is sold out early in the service cycle, the software may recommend adding one or more additional rows of this product based on the returning time of day data sales. [0042] The automated menu generator system may be programmed by specific rules and will provide better customer satisfaction, lower service cost, higher gross sales and an operating consistency for the vending operator. The automated menu generator system increases sales when the menu is properly managed and merchandised and reduces labor costs for data reduction and menu generation.

[0043] In another embodiment, shown in Fig. 6, the automated menu generator system also allows each vending operator to set their own rules, sensitivities and priorities in the system. The vending operator may manually over ride the menu suggested by the automated menu generator system. The system display shows the current menu 180 offered on the vending machine (on the center of Fig. 6) and a variety of alternate products 185 that are available for vending and substituting in the menu (on the sides of Fig. 6). The display also shows the history of the account 190 and recommends which products should be offered if the operator would like to override the system and manually generate a menu. The automated software system may also show rankings for each product, such as product usage percentage 160, and include an Auto Generate feature 195 to generate a menu based on the rankings.

Custom Menu Pricing System

[0044] One of the problems in implementing a customized menu for each vending machine is the time and labor involved in programming the customized pricing of the products that it will be assigned to any of the vendor machines. To overcome this, the present invention discloses a custom menu pricing system that includes software capable of downloading custom product pricing into the vending machine's memory and printing a custom pricing card 200 for placement on the vending machine 100 that corresponds to programmed pricing structure. The price associated with each bin may be downloaded to the vending machine memory by methods known in the art for transferring such information. After downloading the pricing to the vending machine's memory using a software/hardware device, the vending operator need only exchange the printed updated custom pricing card 200 with the preexisting pricing card, shown in Figs. 7 and 8. The vending machine 100 may include a pricing card holder 205 that will accept the pricing card 200. The pricing card 200 may indicate the bin number, the unit price and the name of the product.

[0045] In use, each product is assigned to an individual bin in a select vending machine. The price for each product is then entered into the custom menu pricing system creating a custom menu and a pricing card for the select vending machine. The custom menu includes the individual product name, the corresponding price and the bin number. The custom pricing card is then printed and placed on the select vending machine. The custom pricing card includes information for the user, such as the product name, the corresponding price and the bin number. The price associated with each bin is then entered into the memory of the select vending machine.

[0046] The custom menu pricing system is a simple, fast, low cost method for changing prices for several bins in seconds. It can identify each individual product by name, the corresponding price and the bin number. It allows the vending operator to customize the menu pricing using an extremely low cost method that is very easy to use. Vending machines with digital display may be fast but they are costly. Many of the digital displays may identify a product by name or by the bin number, but they do not have enough characters to expand farther then the pricing. The more characters that it adds, the higher the cost go.

Individual User Product Tracking System

[0047] In another embodiment of the invention, individual customer usage or purchasing data is recorded by one or more vending machines and downloaded into a tracking system for analysis. The customer is issued a user identification number or a smart card with a preprogrammed unique serial number or by use of a thumb print (using a thumb print reader). One example: the smart card is configured to work with a vending machine system to track unique information on the customers purchasing habits, such as time of day sales, purchase price and volume, geographic sales, machine selection at time of purchase, products purchased, etc. These customers may be company employees and the system may track the usages from each employee across all of the company vending machines. This information may then be provided to the company to view employee purchasing habits.

[0048] Fig. 9 shows one example of historical details 220 of every transaction from tracking one customer identification number. In this example, a smart card was used to the customer with a preprogrammed unique serial number. Each time the smart card was used 225 for a product purchase, the purchase was recorded by software inside of the vending machine. The vending machine software can track all the transaction details for the life of the smart card. The tracking date is then transferred from the vending machine software to the tracking system for analysis. The tracking system provides the vending operator a detailed product analysis of the customers purchases. This tracking system is not restricted to smart cards as other method of identification may be used. An online registration program may also be used that will allow each customer to register their unique number for the smart card and in return receive a free product or credit. The registration may include obtaining their personal demographics, such as income level, home owner, nationality, etc. This customer specific data may then be sold to the product manufacturers.

[0049] In another embodiment, the product manufacturers may add a manufactures coupon program. The concept is to give product manufacturers the ability to offer a discount on new or various products against other competing products that are offered in the same menu at any vending machine. For example: manufacturer A, such as MARS, is offering a new product that will compete directly against a specific product of manufacturer B, Hershey's. Both products are loaded into the vending machine. When a customer inserts their smart card or number into the vending machine and makes a selection to purchase the Hershey's product, before that product vends a coupon message may be displayed on a screen indicating that if the customer purchases the MARS product, they will receive a $.30 discount. The coupon discount may slowly be reduced in value as the customer begins purchasing the MARS product on a continual basis. There are multiple ways in which to apply this coupon. The vending operator may then be reimbursed for the coupon value directly from the manufacturer. VIP & Free Vend System

[0050] In another embodiment, the system allows companies to subsidize their vending machines products for their employees by offering a lower price or provide free vending products, such as snacks and beverages, to their employees as a company benefit. This may also be provided by vending operators to provide discounts to VIP customers. Each employee or customer is assigned a unique number (smart card, pin number, thumb print, etc). This number is then programmed into a smart card, magnetic strip card; PDA's, telephones, (other devices) or simply can be used as a pin number at the machine. This number can control the number of company subsidized vends that each employee receives. This locks out any non-employee personnel from the benefit on any particular machine but allows non-employees to purchase products at its regular price. This information is then downloaded from the vending machine and at the end of each month, the system can send the company an itemized invoice showing the usages from each number. The company can make adjustments to the subsidized program by increasing or decreasing the number of vends subsidized by the company for any serial number or for the entire employee base.

[0051] In one example, a company receptionist may be given an unlimited free vend number so that they can offer any visiting guest a free refreshment or snack at anytime, while the other employees may have a unique number that only allows them one or more free vend a day.

[0052] Fig. 10 shows two embodiments of smart cards 230, 235 that have been programmed with a unique identification numbers. One embodiment of the smart card is a VIP card that may allow unlimited vends and the company will be invoiced with an itemized statement showing each transaction on this card by each product purchased. Another embodiment of a smart card is a basic employee card that can be programmed to allow the card carrier one to multiple free vends per day. The basic employee card may also have the ability to bill the individual customer. Remote Verbal Vending Machine Communication System

[0053] In the event the vending machines has mechanical problems, such as a product does not vend correctly or a changer does not give the proper change back, the present system provides a customer the ability to contact a remote service person from the vending machine by the push of a call button. When a problem occurs, the customer pushes a call button located on the vending machine and is put in communication directly to remote service personnel. The remote service personnel will have complete access to control the vending machine with functions like, refund money, turn a spiral, or any other vending machine function available to solve the problem. The customer will get instant access to solve their problem. This communication may be done through the use of cell phones, web interface, radio, etc. Current vending machines are known to communicate, but only with transfer data. The present system provides a way for a customer to verbally communicate with the service personnel live and solve their problem while they are still at the vending machine.

[0054] Although the invention has been described with reference to the above example, it will be understood that modifications and variations are encompassed within the spirit and scope of the invention. Accordingly, the invention is limited only by the following claims.

Claims

What is claimed is:
1. A method of requesting products for placement in a select vending machine using an automated online request system, the method comprising: accessing the automated online request system using an interactive website; retrieving information for the select vending machine in the automated online request system; displaying on a website display a menu of currently offered products on the select vending machine and all products available for the select vending machine; and selecting a requested product for placement in the select vending machine.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein accessing the automated online request system includes entering a unique vendor identification for the select vending machine.
3. The method of claim 2, wherein the unique vendor identification is visible on the select vending machine.
4. The method of claim 1 , wherein displaying on a website display also includes displaying a calendar indicating when the select vending machine was previously serviced and the next service cycle.
5. The method of claim 1, wherein displaying on a website display a menu of currently offered products also includes product bin assignments in the select vending machine.
6. The method of claim 1 , wherein displaying on a website display also includes historical product sales data.
7. The method of claim 1, further comprising adding the requested product to a preplanned menu for placement in the select vending machine on the next service cycle.
8. A method of generating a preplanned menu for one or more vending machines using an automated menu generator system, the method comprising: obtaining product sales/usage data from the one or more vending machines; entering the obtained product sales/usage data into the automated menu generator system; reviewing the product sales/usage data to determine sales success of each individual product; apply a ranking to each individual product based on the product sales/usage data; and generating a preplanned menu of products to be placed in the one or more vending machines based in part on the ranking.
9. The method of claim 8, wherein the one or more vending machines have product bins and obtaining product sales/usage data includes tracking how many bins that each product has been offered in.
10. The method of claim 8, wherein obtaining product sales/usage data includes tracking how many people each product has been offered to.
11. The method of claim 8, wherein generating a preplanned menu may further be based in part on such factors as time of day sales, gross product margin of each product, sales history of each individual vending machine, date sensitive products, sales history over the entire fleet of vending machines, special request, coupons, new products offered or warehouse inventory levels.
12. A method of using a custom menu pricing system for one or more vending machines having a memory and individual product bins, the method comprising: assigning each product to be sold to an individual bin in a select vending machine; entering the price of each product into the custom menu pricing system creating a custom menu and a pricing card for the select vending machine, the custom menu including at least the individual product name, the corresponding price and the bin number; printing the custom pricing card from the custom menu, the custom pricing card including at least the individual product name, the corresponding price and the bin number; placing the custom pricing card on the select vending machine; and entering the price associated with each bin into the memory of the select vending machine.
13. The method of claim 12, wherein the select vending machine includes a pricing card holder, and wherein placing the custom pricing card on the select vending machine includes placing the custom pricing card in the pricing card holder.
14. The method of claim 12, wherein entering the price associated with each bin into the memory includes electronically downloading the custom menu into the memory of the select vending machine.
15 A method of tracking an individual user's usage of one or more vending machines, the method comprising: assigning each individual user a unique identification number which the user enters into the vending machine prior to a purchase; and tracking each user's usage of the one or more vending machines using the unique identification number.
16. The method of claim 15, wherein tracking each user's usage includes one or more of the following: product(s) purchased, purchase price and volume, time of day sales, geographic sales and vending machine selected at time of purchase.
17. The method of claim 15, wherein tracking each user's usage is recorded by vending machine software.
18. The method of claim 17, further comprising downloading the information recorded in the vending machine software and analyzing the information for each user.
19. The method of claim 18, further comprising billing the user for the products purchased based on the information.
20. The method of claim 18, further comprising offering the user incentives for certain product purchases based in part on the information.
21. The method of claim 15, wherein assigning each user a unique identification number includes registering the unique identification number on an online registration program.
22. The method of claim 21 , wherein the online registration program provides an incentive for registering.
23. The method of claim 15, wherein the unique identification number is programmed into a smart card, a magnetic strip, a PDA or a telephone.
24. The method of claim 15, wherein the unique identification number is a pin number entered into the vending machine at time of purchase.
25. The method of claim 15, wherein the one or more vending machines are placed in a company and the users are company employees, the method further comprising tracking each employee's usage across all of the company vending machines.
26. The method of claim 15, wherein the one or more vending machines are placed in a company and the users are company employees, the method further comprising subsidizing employee purchases through the unique identification numbers.
27. The method of claim 26, wherein subsidizing includes free product purchases for one or more unique identification numbers.
28. A method of using a remote verbal vending machine communication system comprising: initiating communication using a vending machine communication device to contact remote service personnel; and verbally communicating with remote service personnel through the vending machine communication device.
29. The method of claim 28, wherein initiating communication using a vending machine communication device includes pushing a call button located on the vending machine.
30. The method of claim 25, wherein the remote service personnel are capable of remote controlling one or more vending machine functions.
31. The method of claim 30, wherein the remote controlling one or more vending machine functions include refunding money and/or dispensing a product.
32. The method of claim 28, wherein the communication device is a cell phone, a web interface or a radio.
33. The method of claim 28, wherein initiating communication is done in response to a problem with the vending machine.
PCT/US2007/008544 2006-04-06 2007-04-06 Vending machine systems and methods of use WO2007117578A2 (en)

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USD748196S1 (en) 2014-08-27 2016-01-26 Outerwall Inc. Consumer operated kiosk for sampling products

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US20050156028A1 (en) * 2000-05-23 2005-07-21 Munroe Chirnomas Method and apparatus for controlling rented or leased or loaned

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US20030132298A1 (en) * 1996-09-05 2003-07-17 Jerome Swartz Consumer interactive shopping system
US20050156028A1 (en) * 2000-05-23 2005-07-21 Munroe Chirnomas Method and apparatus for controlling rented or leased or loaned

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* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
USD748196S1 (en) 2014-08-27 2016-01-26 Outerwall Inc. Consumer operated kiosk for sampling products

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